If Spook Street is where spies live, Joe Country is where they go to die.
In Slough House, the London outpost for disgraced MI5 spies, memories are stirring, all of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him an outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process.
Meanwhile, in Regent’s Park, Diana Taverner’s tenure as First Desk is running into difficulties. If she’s going to make the Service fit for purpose, she might have to make deals with a familiar old devil . . .
And with winter taking its grip, Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can’t ignore the dried blood on his carpets. So when the man responsible for killing a slow horse breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score.
Herron's enjoyable sixth Slough House novel (after 2018's London Rules) offers a jaundiced look at espionage in the Brexit age. Jackson Lamb is in charge of Slough House, the decrepit London building where MI5 operatives end up because of a botched mission, alcohol abuse, or simply stepping on the wrong toes. At one point, Lamb tells his crew of misfits: "You lot keep your heads down, do what you're told, and quietly die of boredom, and everyone's happy as an Oxfam worker at a sex party. But start making waves and there are shit storms waiting to happen." Lamb is proven right when Louisa Guy, one of his staff, is contacted by Clare, the widow of Min Harper, Louisa's former colleague and lover. Clare asks Louisa to find her missing 17-year-old son, Lucas. This simple task turns into a deadly game of blackmail, treachery, and spy vs. spy, played out in the freezing Welsh countryside. Droll dialogue, characters who wear their foibles proudly, and observations on the politics of potential vested interest in national security keep the pages turning. Herron solidifies his place as one of Britain's top spy novelists.
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Well paced and well written.